Merry CRomnibus Christmas

On Dec 13, a $1.1 trillion federal spending bill passed the Senate (the bill passed out of the House of Representatives on Dec 11), securing funding of the federal government through September 2015. The spending bill was something more than a Continuing Resolution (CR) and something less than a standard omnibus spending bill, evoking by some the label of CRomnibus.

No spending bill of this magnitude can ever be deemed universally good or bad. On the other hand, scores of legislative riders attached to the final bill are a different story. In this series, we’ll explore some of the worst riders and funding aspects of this bill from the perspective of rural and small town America. Let's begin with America's family farmers and ranchers.

Congress Takes Family Farmers and Ranchers for a Ride

What does Congress have against family farmers and ranchers anyway? The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed last week included, among scores of other legislative “riders,” the full version of the so-called GIPSA rider passed earlier by the House of Representatives. A rider is a legislative provision attached to a larger spending bill.

There are not enough ways to describe how bad this hidden policy package really is. It limits USDA’s ability to protect farmers’ and ranchers’ basic rights, such as their freedom of speech and freedom of association, The Packers and Stockyards Act, passed in 1921, was written to protect farmers and ranchers from discriminatory, deceptive and abusive practices when the sell livestock and poultry to meatpacking corporations.

Congress abandoned those principles when they passed the FY 2015 federal spending bill. They abandoned USDA’s effort to provide smaller volume farm and ranch livestock producers a more competitive livestock market and greater fairness for farmers and ranchers.

The 2008 farm bill required Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to write regulation, under the Packers and Stockyards Act, to prohibit undue and discriminatory preferences given to large, industrial livestock operations and to provide basic protections to farmers and ranchers who do business with meatpacking corporations. Secretary Vilsack proposed the best and most comprehensive livestock market reforms since the passage of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

At the 11th hour, however, Congress undercut his efforts. And now they’ve done it again. Family farmers and ranchers, and especially those just getting started, need and deserve access to competitive livestock markets that reward them fairly for their work. That’s something Congress needs to figure out, sooner rather than later.